Alternatives To Anti-Inflammatories for Pain…


Asprin, ibuprofen and naproxen are 3 of the most well known NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs). They are commonly used for the treatment of inflammation, pain, and fever. These compounds are believed to work by inhibiting an enzyme, cycloooxygenase, which forms substances called prostanoids that are responsible for the inflammatory response.

It’s not a good idea not to take them long term. They are responsible for up to 30% of drug related admissions to hospitals, due mainly to bleeding, stroke or renal damage. They can also cause stomach upsets. For this many doctors may prescribe a proton pump inhibitor such as omeprazole. Omeprazole has been implicated in potential malabsorption of nutrients including vitamin B12, vitamin C, calcium, iron and magnesium.

So if you want to avoid NSAIDS and the associated Proton Pump Inhibitor you may be prescribed what are your options? What can potentially work to lower inflammation, pain and let you get your life back?

1. Supplements

Before dosing yourself up with vitamins try to optimise your diet to be vitamin and mineral rich, avoiding processed food. Only then should you look to vitamins to fix any issues the improvement in your diet hasn’t fixed.

Vitamins should not be used as a short-cut or “hack” to health. They should be used where you are unable, maybe due to physiological processes in your body, to assimilate enough of the various vitamins and minerals you need. Taking significantly beyond the RDA of a vitamin or mineral does not mean it will do you more good. In some cases it will do you more harm. The body craves balance – excess of any input can create disharmony and dysfunction.

The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) of Vitamin D for most adults is 600 IU of vitamin D a day. This includes vitamin D you get from diet and sunshine. Some supplements can contain many times this limit. Over a period of months this can become toxic, resulting in calcification of soft tissue with symptoms of nausea and vomiting, weakness, bone pain and calcium stones.

Before taking any supplementation you must carefully assess your symptoms and get a blood test to check levels before self dosing.

Vitamin D. Spend a lot of time indoors? Symptoms get worse in the winter? Don’t eat much in the way of fish, eggs or dairy? Perhaps you have a Vitamin D deficiency. Particularly important to check out given that Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased risk of cancer.

Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to demyelination of nerve sheaths (essentially damaging the nerves), mimicking symptoms of MS; weakness, tiredness, numbness and tingling, depression. Check you are eating enough B12 rich foods (red meat, fish, shell fish, fortified soy products, dairy).

Calcium. Calcium deficiency can cause a variety of symptoms; muscle spasms and cramps, numbness and tingling, brittle nails and confusion and memory loss. Its a common myth that dairy is the only source of calcium. In contrast greens such as broccoli and kale are excellent sources, as are sardines and almonds.

The way you take calcium is critical. Suficient vitamin D is needed to assimilate calcium. Excess calcium is excreted through the kidneys. Too much calcium can cause kidney stones and may raise risk of heart disease. Its important to stagger calcium intake. Too much taken at once will not be assimilated – instead taxing the kidneys as its excreted from the body.

Magnesium. Magnesium is an essential electrolyte, Its a macro nutrient meaning its needed in large quantities. It’s a nutrient important for proper muscle and nerve function, allowing muscles to relax.

Deficiency can result in muscle weakness, twitching, dizziness, nausea and irritability. It can even be the root cause of low calcium or potassium levels.
Magnesium is also critical for production of the feel good hormone serotonin. Low levels can be responsible for depression. Requirements will rise for magnesium if you’re doing hard physical work, are under emotional stress or taking certain medications such as chemotherapy, anti- fungals, medications for infections and others.

In trials magnesium tends to work best for migraine and menstrual headaches. Bananas, avocados, nuts, dark green leafy vegetables and dark chocolate all contain high levels of magnesium.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Fish oil contains 2 important fatty acids – EPA and DHA. The body does not produce many of its own fatty acids. Supplementation of omega 3 found in fish oil can reduce inflammation and pain and seems to boost the effectiveness of NSAIDS such as ibuprofen.

Turmeric. This is a potent anti-inflammatory. So much so that it is contra-indicated whilst exercising as you’ll not get the adaptation from the immediate inflammatory response.

2. Self Massage

Peppermint oil has been used to help with stomach cramps. It may work by reducing spasms in the muscular wall of the bowel. Its this same mechanism, reducing muscular tension, that is thought to be responsible for its efficacy in treating pain. Rubbed into painful areas it has been shown to have an analgesic effect, shutting down heat and pain pathways.

3. Heat or Cold

Traditionnally Ice has been used for acute injury – to create an analgesic effect and reduce inflammation. Heat on the other hand lends itself to the rehabilitation phase. Increased warmth can improve blood flow and help improve movement. The original acronym RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) has evolved over the years into the infinitely more complicated PEACE & LOVE (Protection, Elevation, Avoid anti-inflammatory drugs, Compression, and Education & Load, Optimism, Vascularization, and Exercise).

4. Stretch.

Stretching can help the local fascia release and help to reduce pain. Initial research also suggests that stretching may have more widespread effects; reducing systemic inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a key component of many modern diseases; cancer, diabetes, auto-immune disease, depression.

5. Sleep

During the deep state of Non REM sleep the body repairs and regenerates tissues, builds bone and muscle. If you’re carrying an injury its essential you get enough sleep to allow your body to carry out essential repairs & maintenance.

Above all else…

Keep Your Spirits Up. Low mood pre-disposes you to more pain so make sure to keep yourslef stimulated and take your mind off the pain. If you’ve injured your knee and training is your salvation focus on your upper body. Don’t disconnect from the world or your friends as they can distract you from the pain. If you can’t bear to leave the house then try connecting via video call then build up to in person meetings with sympathetic friends.

And don’t forget…

Most acute pain resolves by itself over time… 90% of acute back pain resolves by itself within 8 weeks.If your pain has gone beyond 6-8 weeks or its just too much to bear, then why not schedule a free 15 minute appointment with me to see if acupuncture can help. It’s very effective at treating chronic pain and is even recommneded by NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) for treatment of chronic pain.